Universe Alpha 7:
The Reflection of Home

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Author's Note: Contributions made to this chapter by Greybear.

Chapter 47 - No Place Like Home

"What's this?" Vincent asked as he carefully unfolded the gray cloth.

"That's the uniform you'll be wearing on your first mission as an officer." Captain Byrne said simply.

Once he had the uniform completely unfolded, Vincent realized that what he was holding was, in fact, a Vulcan officer's uniform, not a Starfleet one. Before he could say anything to that effect, he noticed the rank insignia that was on it.

"This isn't right. If I'm an ensign, that should mean that I'd be a sublieutenant on a Vulcan ship." Vincent said cautiously.

"No, Vincent." A voice said from behind him and he turned to see Cory and Sean on the terminal screen on Commander DeGama's desk.

"I've talked this over with Grandfather Sarek and a few others and we've come to the conclusion that while serving as a representative of Clan Short or of Vulcan, that you should carry the rank of Major." Cory said seriously.

Vincent was stunned into speechlessness by the declaration.

"You earned this a long time ago. But there was no way we were going to stop you from working and achieving the rank of ensign by yourself. By doing it this way, you know that you earned your commission, whether you're called Ensign or Major, you know that you earned your rank without any help from us." Sean said gently.

Vincent thought for a moment, then carefully asked, "So it will be something like it is with the Vulcan diplomatic access that I already have. While I'm on the Yorktown, I'll be an ensign, just like any other ensign. But if something happens that I need to act as a part of the clan, then I'll be a Vulcan major?"

"Yes." Captain Byrne said with a smile. "That is exactly what it means. But the reason you were given a Vulcan uniform today is because your next assignment won't be on a Starfleet vessel. It has been suggested, and I quite agree, that the next phase of your training should take place in less familiar surroundings."

Vincent looked at Captain Byrne with surprise, then back to the monitor, at Cory, with question.

Cory smiled and said, "The Vulcan science vessel, T'Salanade, has just been dispatched from Vulcan and should arrive at Earth in about two and a half days."

"I believe I will let Commander Dodds provide you with the specifics. I have other matters which require my immediate attention." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Yes, sir." Vincent said formally, then added more gently, "Thank you for coming to see me get my commission."

"I'm very proud of you Ensign Winters. You're a credit to the Yorktown."

"Thank you, sir." Vincent said proudly.

* * * * *

"According to your orders, you are to be prepared to board the T'Salanade at 12:00 hours two days from now. I was thinking that, since you seem to have some spare time, how would you feel about visiting with us at Southcrest until your ship arrives?" Commander Dodds asked with a smile as he walked with Vincent and Joe out of Commander DeGama's office.

Vincent looked at Joe to see if he had any objection.

"All I'm going to be doing is living out of a hotel room and visiting with Lawrence." Joe said frankly.

"And Grandma Mona." Vincent added with a grin.

"Well, yeah." Joe said with a blush and a smile.

"Okay. I mean, yes, Commander Dodds, I think it'd be great to visit your house for a few days." Vincent said, trying to maintain a formal tone.

"Good. I know that everyone will be glad to see you again." Chip said happily. "I forget, do you know how to ride a horse?"

"Um, no. I've never really had a chance." Vincent said shyly.

"Well, there's no time like the present. As soon as we get you settled in, I'll take you down to the stable and we'll get you started." Chip said happily.

Vincent thought back to the first time he had ever met Commander Dodds. It was at the barbeque and the commander had seemed so much larger than life. Now, seeing him again months later, Vincent was happy to realize that when the hero worship faded away, what was left was a man whom he respected and genuinely liked.

"Captain Byrne hinted that you might be receiving an assignment once you'd received your commission, so I took the precaution of packing some bags for you, just in case you needed them. They're in the rental car." Joe said as he walked with Vincent and the Commander.

"Will you take care of the rest of my new stuff?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Yes. I'll see that it's waiting for you when you return to the Yorktown." Joe assured him.

"You'd be welcome to visit with us, too, Joe. I have plenty of room." Chip said honestly.

"Thank you, Sir. I appreciate the offer, but I actually have made some plans to spend time with Lawrence and Mona." Joe said timidly.

"Then I guess I'll see you when the Yorktown refit is done." Vincent said as he felt a twinge of irrational fear at being separated from Joe.

"Don't worry Ensign Winters. You'll do just fine. Besides, I'm always as close as the nearest terminal." Joe said as he held up his communicator.

"Yeah." Vincent said with a grin as he also took his communicator off his belt and held it up.

"Do you guys need a ride to the spaceport? My rental's right over here." Joe asked as they walked out of the building.

"Certainly, if you're headed that way." Chip said pleasantly.

* * * * *

The trip to the spaceport was pleasant. Joe, Chip and Vincent chatted comfortably like old friends.

When the time finally came for Vincent and Joe to go their separate ways, Vincent felt another twinge at seeing him go. He wasn't afraid or even a little bit worried. But Joe had been with him for the past few months, always available and always willing to help in any way that he could.

* * * * *

Once Vincent and Chip were aboard their shuttle, Chip quietly asked, "You remember Ben, don't you?"

"Yeah. But like the way I remember someone who I only ever saw in a movie. Not like someone I ever met in real life." Vincent said honestly.

"That's how it is for me, too. At least to a certain degree." Chip said regretfully.

"Did you find out what happened to Uncle Josh?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I haven't talked to him or anything. But from what I've heard, he's doing fine. He's single and is focusing on his music. He seems to be fairly happy." Chip said quietly.

Vincent nodded, then asked, "How are you doing?"

Chip shrugged, then said, "I'm not sure. I mean, I love Ben. I loved him long before I ever met Josh. So it's not like I'm married to a complete stranger. But I guess I'm just reluctant to get too close. I loved Ben, then I lost him. I loved Josh; now I've lost him, too. What happens if this... reality, or whatever it is that we're in, suddenly switches back? I just don't know if I can risk my heart again like that."

"Yeah. I guess I'm just lucky that T'Lani and I were in a mind meld when it happened, or it might be something like that for me, too." Vincent said quietly.

"I'm glad you were able to bring your wife with you into this new reality." Chip said sincerely.

Vincent nodded, then asked, "If you can't let yourself love Ben, what are you going to do? I mean, isn't it unfair to him if you're acting like you love him but holding yourself back?"

Chip sat and thought for a moment, then finally said, "I haven't let myself think about that. I keep thinking that at any moment, this could all end and then we'll be back in our real reality."

"What if you knew that it wasn't going to change back. What would you do then?" Vincent asked curiously.

Chip pondered the question for a moment, then quietly said, "I suppose that if I knew, without a doubt, that this was the reality that I was going to be in for the rest of my life, that I'd have to make a choice. I'd either have to grab on or let go. Like you said, it wouldn't be fair to Ben to pretend."

"I don't know if you know about this, because it happened before... the change. But a few months ago, I was visited by someone from the future." Vincent said carefully.

"Watch out. This sounds like one of those things that could pollute the timeline and cause a paradox." Chip said cautiously.

"No. I don't think so. He was really careful about that. Besides, the thing that I want to tell you about has already happened." Vincent said seriously.

"Okay. But still, you need to be careful talking about things like this." Chip said seriously.

"I know. That's part of why I haven't told anyone since... you know." Vincent said quietly as he glanced around the shuttle, then continued, "The thing the guy from the future told me is that there was going to be a time split. He said that when that happened, that the two timelines would become completely separate. From that point on, what happened in one wouldn't have any effect on what happened in the other. They're not alternate universes, at least, not the way we're used to understanding them. Usually alternate universes sprout off from the 'trunk' of the main timeline and alternates don't sprout other alternates. But this time, they're completely different timelines that operate independently and both can sprout alternates of their own. They're both 'trunks'."

"Do you think that's what happened?" Chip asked thoughtfully.

"I don't know for sure. But the guy from the future seemed really sure about what was going to happen and if he was right, this sounds a lot like what he was talking about." Vincent said frankly.

"I suppose it's as good an explanation as anything that we've been able to come up with. When we have some time, I'd like to get a little more detail about what your visitor said was going to happen. Maybe it will provide us a few more pieces to the puzzle." Chip said thoughtfully.

"So, the investigation isn't going well?" Vincent asked cautiously, not sure if he should ask.

"Not really. We have quite a bit of information, but when we put it all together, we still don't know what happened, why it happened, if it's going to happen again... things like that." Chip said frankly.

"Do you think it'd be better if you didn't remember the old timeline?" Vincent asked curiously.

Chip didn't even have to think before answering, "No. Even if it makes things difficult, I'd rather know what's really going on."

"Me, too." Vincent responded sincerely.

* * * * *

"I can't get over your house being in Texas, now. I still think of it being in Orlando." Vincent said frankly as they stepped out of the shuttle.

"Think how strange it is for me." Chip chuckled.

"Pop!" A voice called as Vincent and Chip were walking away from the shuttle.

"Do you remember Keith?" Chip asked quietly as he waved at his son.

"Yeah." Vincent said uncomfortably.

"Is there something wrong?" Chip asked curiously.

"Not really. It's just... I guess I probably could've been nicer to him and Ethan when I was staying at your place. But I don't think I was really that bad to them." Vincent said cautiously.

Before Chip could respond, Keith ran up and pulled him into a firm hug.

When the hug released, Keith seemed to be about to say something, but then stopped and looked at Vincent curiously.

"What's wrong?" Vincent asked hesitantly.

"Are you an Ensign or what?" Keith asked as he looked at the officer's uniform jacket that Vincent was wearing over his crewman's jumpsuit uniform.

"Yeah. I just got my commission... I mean, like, an hour ago." Vincent said frankly, then glanced at Chip to see if he were going to explain further.

"That is so great! I wish I could have been there!" Keith said enthusiastically.

"Ask your Uncle Spock to show you the video. I asked him to record it." Chip said with a grin.

"Captain Spock was watching?" Vincent asked as he looked at Chip with wonder.

"Yes. Although, I can understand how you could have missed him. I've never seen so many split screens at one time." Chip said with a chuckle.

Vincent nodded as he recalled the viewscreen in Commander DeGama's office.

"By the way, Keith, what are you doing here?" Chip asked cautiously.

"Dad asked me to come into town and pick you up." Keith said simply.

Chip stared at him and waited.

Finally, Keith reluctantly admitted, "Okay. I guess I was kind of being a pest and really getting underfoot, so he suggested that I drive into town and get you, to give me something to do until Ethan's classes let out."

"Well, I'm glad you're here. It's nice to come home to a friendly face." Chip said with a tender smile at his son.

"Have you guys eaten? Would you like to stop for tacos on the way home?" Keith asked with an ear to ear grin.

"Would you like some tacos, Vincent?" Chip asked as he smiled at his son's effervescent good mood.

"Yeah. Tacos sounds good." Vincent said honestly.

"I know a GREAT place!" Keith said enthusiastically as he ushered them out of the spaceport.

* * * * *

"Can you tell me anything about my mission?" Vincent asked Chip once they were all in the car.

"I don't really know any more than what you've been told. But you should be able to get all the details from your mission briefing when we get to the house." Chip said frankly.

"Yeah. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to do that first thing so I'll know if there's stuff that I need to study or anything like that." Vincent said honestly.

"That's probably a good idea." Chip agreed.

"You've got a mission? Didn't the Yorktown just dock a few days ago?" Keith asked curiously.

"Yeah. I took a few days of leave until I could take my officer's exam. But as soon as I got my commission, they had an assignment ready and waiting for me." Vincent said honestly.

"We're just in dock for a quick turnaround. We'll be going out again in a few days." Keith said frankly.

"The Yorktown is going to be in dock for... at least a month, anyway. No one's really sure for how long. But while she's being refit, most of the crew is being reassigned to temporary duties." Vincent said seriously.

"Do you know what you'll be doing?" Keith asked with interest.

"I'll be working on a Vulcan science vessel. That's about all I know." Vincent said honestly.

"What is Starfleet doing posting someone to a Vulcan science vessel?" Keith asked curiously.

"Actually, I think Sean and Cory arranged that, then they got Starfleet to go along with it." Vincent said slowly.

"Oh, so it's not like a real mission. It's a Clan thing." Keith surmised.

"The way I understand it, Vincent's going to be 'on loan', serving as an officer on a Vulcan ship. Of course, if you think that it's not a 'real' mission, I know just the people I could talk to, so that we could arrange the same thing for you." Chip finished with a sinister glance at his son.

"No. I don't think I could stand to have that much fun." Keith said with a grimace, then quickly added, "But thanks for offering."

Vincent chuckled at the response.

"Seriously, Cory and Sean thought that it would be a good experience for Vincent. It's kind of like he's going to get the chance to look at his job from a whole new perspective." Chip said honestly.

"I guess I'm going to need to study about the standard operating procedures on a Vulcan vessel. I don't know how it's different from Starfleet, but I bet it's not the same." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"It's probably not as different as you're imagining. I think the majority of the policies and procedures in ship's operations have been adapted to be close to the same. When there has been a difference, they went with what worked best." Chip said speculatively.

"Logical." Vincent said with a nod.

"Here we are." Keith said happily, then added, "You're going to love this!"

Vincent and Chip exchanged an incredulous look as Keith pulled into what looked like a less than reputable eating establishment.

* * * * *

"Hang on a minute, I need to get something." Vincent said as he fumbled in his backpack.

Chip and Keith waited outside the car until Vincent had found the pill bottles that he was looking for.

"Are you sick?" Keith asked with concern.

"No. I've just been having some major growth spurts and they cause me to ache a lot. These are for the pain." Vincent said simply, then walked to join Chip and Keith beside the car.

* * * * *

As the trio walked into the restaurant, they noticed that there were only five tables. One of them was occupied and the family that was sitting there were chatting amongst themselves and not eating.

"Are you sure about this?" Chip asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Ethan and I found this place a while back and it's awesome." Keith said happily.

"If you're sure..." Chip trailed off apprehensively.

Keith led the way up to the cash register to place his order, but there didn't seem to be anyone on duty in the kitchen.

"What can I get for you?" A man asked as he got up from the occupied table and walked past them.

"Do you want me to order for you? I know what's good." Keith offered.

After a moment to look over the menu board, Chip quietly said, "That might be best."

"Go grab a seat and I'll bring it when it's ready." Keith said happily.

As Chip and Vincent walked to a table, Vincent quietly asked, "What're the chances that we're going to regret this?"

Chip looked around the shabby little place with a critical eye, then quietly said, "I'd say, pretty good."

* * * * *

"I forgot to congratulate you on your detection of the pirates. Good work." Chip said as they took their seats.

"I bet the same thing has happened a dozen times to other people and no one ever made a big deal about it." Vincent said frankly.

Chip thought about it for a moment, then said, "I suppose I can see what you're saying. If it were an experienced officer doing the same thing, no one would have taken notice."

"Starfleet just wants to use my story as a way to let people know that they're really doing something to deal with pirates. Instead of making it sound like they're tooting their own horn, they decided to make it about me." Vincent said frankly, then looked to see what Keith was doing.

"Although that may be true, please keep in mind that you actually did do something that was worthy of praise." Chip said seriously.

At Vincent's incredulous look, Chip continued, "You recognized a trap for what it was. That is a skill that not everyone has."

"I guess." Vincent reluctantly agreed.

"Thanks!" Keith said as he walked away from the counter.

Chip and Vincent both watched Keith as he sat plastic baskets, lined with deli paper and filled, nearly to overflowing with food, on the table before them.

"Don't touch anything until I get back." Keith commanded before dashing back to the counter.

"I'd be scared to." Vincent said as he looked at the food before him.

* * * * *

"Okay. There's just a few things you need to know before you eat this." Keith said as he placed glass bottled sodas at each place.

"The crumbly white things are cheese. I have no idea what kind, but once you get past the first bite or two, it's great." Keith said seriously.

Chip and Vincent shared a look at the description, but neither spoke.

"I don't know if you like spicy, but the green salsa is... hot doesn't begin to describe it. I think it may actually be some sort of hallucinogenic. Be really really careful with that." Keith warned.

Vincent made a point of picking up the little plastic cup of green salsa and moving it to the unoccupied place at their table.

"The red salsa has a little sting, but it's nice. It's more like what you'd expect when you think of hot sauce." Keith explained, then smiled as he said, "That's it! Enjoy!"

"What is it?" Chip asked cautiously.

"Oh, it's carnitas tacos with some onions and cilantro in there as the vegetable, I guess." Keith said simply, then picked up one of his three tacos and took a big bite.

Vincent and Chip exchanged a look, as if daring each other, then they picked up their tacos and each took tentative bites.

"Isn't it great?" Keith asked around a mouthful of taco.

Vincent's first taste was primarily of the crumbly white 'mystery cheese'. It was a little bit salty and tangy, but he couldn't pin down an identifiable flavor otherwise.

"The meat is seasoned and cooked perfectly." Chip said in true appreciation.

Vincent had to take another, larger bite, so that this time he could get a taste of the meat.

The tang of the cheese wasn't as 'in your face' with the second bite. It seemed to compliment and draw out the flavor of the meat.

Vincent was surprised to find that with the inclusion of the onions and cilantro, he actually liked the flavor combination.

"What do you think, Vincent?" Keith asked with anticipation.

"It's good. I like it." Vincent said before taking another, even larger, bite.

"I think that you may have started a new family tradition. Now, every time we need to go to or from the spaceport, we're going to have to stop by here for tacos." Chip said frankly.

"Works for me." Keith said happily.

Once Vincent had finished his bite of food, he took a long slow drink of his ice cold soda and was surprised at how satisfying it was.

As he was about to take another bite of his taco, he remembered that he needed to take his pills.

Conversation lagged after that. Everyone seemed to be of one mind, intent on decimating the feast that was before them.

* * * * *

"I hope that Ben doesn't have a big meal planned for us when we get home. It's almost dinner time." Chip said as he got into the passenger seat of Keith's car.

"Yeah. I guess I should have thought about that." Keith said hesitantly.

A long moment of silence followed that was finally broken by Chip saying, "Keith, we might need your help for something."

"What's that?" Keith asked curiously.

"You know the big secret on the Enterprise? Vincent's part of it, too. We might need your help to keep anyone from suspecting that something's wrong." Chip said frankly.

"Like how?" Keith asked curiously.

"As you know, Vincent and I remember a different reality. It's possible that we might have some knowledge about people or events that hasn't been revealed to us in this universe." Chip said honestly.

"I still don't know what it is that everyone else on the Enterprise remembers. No one will talk about it." Keith said in frustration.

"I can't see any way that it would do any good to reveal a series of events to you that never happened in this world." Chip said seriously.

Keith glanced into the rear view mirror and asked, "So you remember this other reality, too?"

"Yeah. But from what I can see, being able to look at both of them, most of the differences aren't really any big deal and aren't worth talking about." Vincent said honestly.

"But it's still possible that Vincent might slip up and unintentionally reveal something. It would help a lot if you could be prepared to do damage control, just in case that happens." Chip said frankly.

"I'm used to not talking about it. There's only a few people on my ship who know, and I haven't talked to any of them about it since the day that it happened." Vincent said seriously.

"At least Dad can talk to the people on the Enterprise about it if he wants to. I'd hate to have to keep a secret as big as this from everyone I know." Keith said thoughtfully.

"I don't really think about it too much. Every now and then I'll run into someone that I'm supposed to know really well in this reality and never met in the other one. That's kind of weird. But other than that, I just usually take things as they come." Vincent said simply.

"Just keep in mind that Jamie and Jacob aren't my sons here, they never were." Chip said quietly.

"Wait! You mean Justy's clan brothers are my real brothers in the other universe?" Keith asked with surprise.

"Yes. But I'd rather not talk about that, if you don't mind. I'd rather not dwell on what was and try to focus on what is." Chip said honestly.

"Sorry, Pop. I mean, I can tell that you're weirded out sometimes when we're at the house, I just don't know by what." Keith said frankly.

"I know. Maybe I'll share that with you someday. But not yet." Chip said quietly.

"What about you, Vincent? Did everything back here on Earth change for you, too?" Keith asked curiously.

Vincent gave a weary smile at the question, then said, "I lost everything right before I left. So, no. Nothing's really changed for me."

"There's the Vincent that I remember!" Keith said with a grin, then added, "I almost didn't recognize you being all cheerful like that."

"It was the promotion. I forgot myself for a few minutes." Vincent said as he tried to keep a grin off his face.

"Do you have any idea what Ben was up to when you left?" Chip asked curiously.

"I don't know exactly what he's working on, but he's been trying to focus on it all day." Keith said honestly.

"Then let's make a point of staying out of his way until he comes up for air. When we get to the house, Vincent can check on his mission briefing while I check in to be sure that Captain Kirk hasn't dropped anything new on me, while I've been out." Chip said frankly.

"Do I need to do that, too?" Keith asked curiously.

"It wouldn't hurt to take a peek. But it's unlikely that Commander Uhura will ask you to do anything off duty." Chip said simply.

"Yeah. She's usually right on top of things and doesn't need for us to do anything extra, outside of working hours." Keith confirmed.

"Once we're all caught up on our correspondence, then I think we all might enjoy some horseback riding." Chip said with the beginning of a smile.

"Just remember that I haven't ever been on a horse before." Vincent cautioned him.

"We'll take it easy on you. I promise." Chip said sincerely.

* * * * *

As they pulled up to the ranch house that Vincent could only think of as a mansion, he fought to separate his 'real' memories, from before, from the 'false' memories that seemed faded and two dimensional.

"Keith, would you mind taking Vincent to a guest room while I let your father know that we're home?" Chip asked hopefully.

"Got it, Pop." Keith said pleasantly and waited for Vincent to gather his knapsack and backpack.

* * * * *

"Is there a computer that I can use for a few minutes?" Vincent asked as he placed his luggage on the bed in the room that Keith had taken him to.

"Sure, you can use one of the computers in the game room, if you want. But you might want to change into something a little bit more comfortable first." Keith suggested.

Vincent looked down at his uniform, then quietly admitted, "I'll go ahead and change into some civvies, but I'd probably be more comfortable wearing this."

"Trust me, if you're going to be horseback riding, you don't want to be wearing your uniform." Keith said seriously.

Vincent chuckled, then said, "I'll take your word for it."

"I'll leave you to change, then. Do you remember where the game room is?" Keith asked from the doorway.

After a moment of thought, Vincent finally said, "I remember it being two different places. I guess if it's not the first place I look, then I'll try the second."

"Bottom of the stairs, double back and it's the third door on the left." Keith said with a grin before walking out of the room.

* * * * *

After changing into his new 'civvies', Vincent went downstairs and was able to find the game room on the first try.

Before anything else, even before his mission briefing, Vincent composed a quick email to T'Lani to let her know about his promotion.

Once that was done, he logged into his Starfleet account and received his mission briefing.

Calling it a 'briefing' was something of an understatement. The message only contained the time, date, and location where he was to report to duty and the name of his ship... which he had already been told.

For the next few minutes, Vincent started going through his emails and letting his friends know that he was on Earth and that he had received his promotion.

"There you are!" A voice said from the doorway, jarring him out of his concentration.

Vincent turned to find the man he recognized as Ben.

One of the curious things about his 'constructed' memories is that he didn't have any emotions automatically associated with them. What he had were dull images and sometimes remembered conversations, but unlike memories of things that had actually happened to him, his 'constructed' memories didn't evoke any feelings.

"How are you doing, Vincent?" Ben asked with concern as he took another step into the room.

Vincent had a vague idea that even though he and Ben had started off as less than friends, mostly due to Vincent knowing that the man was gay, they had ended up forming some sort of a bond between them. He knew this intellectually, but didn't really know what he had felt, or was supposed to have felt.

Given that information, Vincent supposed that the correct action on his part would be for him to go to Ben and hug the man. Before he could do so, the thought came to him that he might be catching a glimpse of what Commander Dodds must be going through, pretending to feel emotions that weren't there.

"I'm good. How are you, Uncle Ben?" Vincent finally responded.

"Chip's been keeping me up to date on what's been going on with you. I'm really very proud of everything you've been able to accomplish." Ben said gently.

"Anything that I've accomplished is because I've had people like Commander Dodds training me how to do my job, and then trusting me to do it. I think that anyone else who had the same support that I did would have done the same things... or maybe even better things." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"If you say so." Ben said with a smile, then quietly asked, "How long are you going to be able to stay with us?"

"I have to report for duty at 12:00, day after tomorrow." Vincent said simply.

"That's not much time. We'll have to find a way to make the most of it." Ben said with a gentle smile.

"You don't have to do anything special for me. I think just having a full day off duty and being able to shower under a real water shower will be enough for me." Vincent said frankly.

"I'll see if we can't come up with something a little bit more exciting than that." Ben chuckled.

"I promise, I've had enough excitement to last me for a long, long time. A couple days of peace and quiet will be just fine with me." Vincent said frankly.

Ben laughed, then said, "I'll see what we can do."

As Ben continued to stand there and seemed to be waiting for something, Vincent finally decided that if he hugged the man that he wouldn't be doing something dishonest. While it was true that he didn't feel whatever bond they had formed before, Ben seemed to be nice and Vincent felt that if he let it happen, they could probably form a really good friendship.

* * * * *

"I don't know about anyone else, but I'm ready to go for a ride." Chip said as he walked into the game room.

Ben released Vincent from the hug they had shared for the past few minutes, then regretfully said, "I've got to finish reviewing the Hildebrand contract. If I can keep after it, I can finish with it tonight."

"Keith said that he's going to wait for Ethan to get home, then they might join us." Chip said casually, then looked to Vincent and added, "It looks like it's going to be you and me."

"Just remember that I've never done this before." Vincent cautioned.

"You'll be fine." Chip assured him as they left the room.

* * * * *

"It looks like you and Ben are getting along okay." Chip said simply as they walked out of the house at a casual pace.

"It's just really tough because I feel like I'm going through the motions, pretending to be his friend, when he's really a complete stranger to me." Vincent said regretfully.

"We're in a unique situation. I think that the most that we can expect of ourselves right now is to hurt as few of our loved ones as possible as we try and navigate this different universe." Chip said frankly.

"Easier said than done." Vincent muttered.

"Come on. This'll help take your mind off things." Chip said as he opened the door to the stable.

* * * * *

It took a few minutes for Vincent to be able to catch his breath with all the 'unfamiliar' scents assaulting him. But after that, he was able to follow along as Chip collected the tack that he would need to saddle the horses.

Vincent watched silently as Chip explained, step by step, what he was doing. Even though he sincerely hoped that he would never have to saddle a horse himself, he was open to the instruction and did his best to pay his full attention.

Finally, with a little steadying from Chip, Vincent stepped into the stirrup and swung his leg over. When Vincent found himself sitting on the back of the horse, he suddenly realized that he didn't have the first clue of what he was supposed to do.

He took firm hold of the saddle horn and tried moving it, as though it were a joystick, but that didn't seem to work.

Finally, Vincent timidly asked, "Do you, maybe, have one with a control console?"

"Sorry, Vincent. You have to pilot this one the old fashioned way." Chip chuckled, then added, "Just follow my lead and you should be fine."

"Okay. But how do you start it?" Vincent asked as he looked at the reins in his hand for the fiftieth time.

"Nudge her side with your foot and click your tongue a few times." Chip said seriously, then demonstrated.

Vincent watched as Chip's horse walked forward a few steps, then turned around to face him.

With more than a little apprehension, Vincent did his best to mimic Chip's actions.

To his credit, the horse did start walking. Unfortunately, it was then that he realized that he didn't know how to make it stop.

"Where are the braking thrusters?" Vincent called out in panic as the horse ambled along at a casual pace.

"Pull back gently on the reins, just enough for the horse to feel it." Chip said with a smile.

Vincent did so and was relieved when the horse came to a full stop.

Chip moved up beside him, then held up his reins and said, "These are your maneuvering thrusters. Lay the reins on the side of the horse's neck when you want her to turn. Like this."

Chip coaxed his mare into a slow walk, then demonstrated turning.

After trying to duplicate Chip's display, Vincent ended up turning his horse completely around.

"I think my maneuvering thrusters may need to be calibrated." Vincent said, once he was finally able to bring his horse to a stop.

"I'll look into that, later." Chip said with a smile, then announced, "Ensign Winters, course three two zero mark four. Impulse speed."

Chip slowly, and very deliberately demonstrated what he was doing as he coaxed his mare to start walking at a reasonable speed.

"Aye, Sir." Vincent nervously called out, then did his best to follow.

* * * * *

It took a few course corrections, using his 'maneuvering thrusters', but Vincent was finally able to match Chip's course and speed.

"How are you doing?" Chip asked cautiously.

"I think mine may need it's stabilizers checked." Vincent finally said.

"Try gripping a little more firmly with your legs. That should help." Chip said honestly.

Vincent tried and realized that it did.

"Are you comfortable?" Chip asked curiously.

"I guess. But I'm not too sure about the inertial dampers on this thing." Vincent said frankly.

"We won't be going fast enough for that to be a concern." Chip assured him.

"Where are we going?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Maintain course and speed, Ensign." Chip said with a grin.

"Aye, Sir."

* * * * *

It took a while for Vincent to become comfortable enough with riding the horse that he was able to notice the picturesque countryside that they were riding through.

"It's beautiful." Vincent gasped in sudden wonder.

"One of the most beautiful places in the universe." Chip confirmed.

Vincent looked around at the beauty of the unfamiliar surroundings for a few minutes, then quietly asked, "So, what do you do out here?"

"Well, as you can probably imagine, there's sometimes work that needs to be done out here. We don't just have the horses so that we can ride for pleasure, Southcrest is a working cattle ranch." Chip said honestly.

Vincent looked around to be sure that he wasn't overlooking something obvious, then hesitantly said, "But there's no cattle."

Chip smiled at the comment, then said, "They're in the North pasture."

Vincent nodded, as if that made some kind of sense to him.

"Ben and I are so busy that we don't take much of a hand in the day to day operations of the ranch, but we have a good crew that makes sure that everything's done. I suppose that, someday, when I'm ready to retire from Starfleet, that I'll probably settle down here and take more of an active role in running things." Chip said distantly.

Vincent looked around again, then thought about his home at the New Hope colony. He tried to envision himself and T'Lani, retired, and enjoying a slower paced life when they could focus on each other and let the universe take care of itself for a while.

* * * * *

"There they are!"

Vincent turned at the sound and saw three mounted riders approaching.

"Pop! Mr. Prater is having kittens! He's been trying to get in touch with you." Justy called.

"Mr. Prater is always having kittens about something. That's why I haven't given him my personal number. He'd be calling me every five minutes, day and night." Chip said frankly.

"If he's that bad, why do you keep him around?" Keith asked curiously as they approached.

"I guess it makes me feel better to have someone who's fussy and panicky keeping track of the receivable accounts. With him watching over things, I know that he's not going to let anything slide." Chip said frankly.

"How are you doing, Vincent?" Justy asked cheerfully.

"I'm okay. Uncle Chip's been showing me how to ride a horse." Vincent said simply.

"Yeah. Isn't this great? I can't imagine anything else that I'd rather be doing." Justy said as he looked over the vast expanse of the Texas range.

"Except Dean." Keith said teasingly.

Justy seemed to be on the verge of a snappy comeback, then apparently thought better of it. Instead, he quietly said, "I need to go back to the house."

"I should go, too, before Mr. Prater works himself into a fit of apoplexy." Chip said frankly.

Keith looked at Justy with concern for a moment, then quietly asked, "Are things alright with you and Dean?"

"Yeah. But with school and my Clan stuff, it just seems like we're being pulled in different directions." Justy said frankly.

The group ambled along at a reasonable pace, which Vincent was grateful for. Although his horse had been the epitome of patience, he didn't have any desire to try 'piloting' her at higher speeds.

"Why don't you invite Dean over tonight?" Chip asked casually.

"He doesn't like to come over while you're here..." Justy began to say, then realized how it sounded and amended, "I mean, he feels like he's intruding on our special family time when he visits while you're on Earth, especially when you're only going to be here for a few days."

"That's very considerate of him, but we already think of him as part of the family and I think everyone would enjoy it if he visited." Chip said frankly.

"Can we invite Channing to come over, too?" Keith asked hopefully.

"He's on shore leave, so he may have made other plans. But it wouldn't hurt to invite him." Chip said with a smile.

"I got an email from him and I guess his grandmother's being a real b... she's kind of difficult to be around at the moment. I think he'd like an excuse to get away for a little bit." Keith stammered.

"Then you should invite him over. In fact, why don't you tell him that we're having a barbecue tomorrow and invite him to stay for that?" Chip asked happily.

"He'll be here. He loves your barbecue!" Ethan chuckled.

"Do you have anyone you'd like to invite from the Clan?" Chip asked as he looked at Justy.

"We kind of had a weird Clan meeting this morning. We had it in Australia. So it was, like, early in the morning here, but it was late at night there. It kind of messed with everyone's head. I'll have to check on who came back and who's still there and see if anyone's interested." Justy said frankly.

"How about you, Vincent? Do you have anyone that you'd like to invite to spend the night?" Chip asked curiously.

"No. Everyone's back on Earth for the first time in months. They probably want to spend time with their families and friends." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"We could invite Joe and Lawrence, if you want." Chip said more gently.

"Daddy Joe has stuff planned and I bet that Lawrence does, too. I'll be alright with the people around here." Vincent said honestly.

"Alright, then. As soon as we get back to the house, Keith and Ethan can contact Channing. Justy can call Dean and I'll head off to Murphy's to get some steaks and brisket for tomorrow." Chip said decisively.

Vincent looked around uncertainly, not knowing where he fitted into the plan.

Chip noticed and said, "You can come with me if you want. I bet you've never been to an actual butcher shop before."

"I've never been to a taxidermy shop, either. But whatever, yeah. Why not." Vincent finally said.

* * * * *

"How are you doing?" Chip asked as they walked away from the stable.

"Fine. Why?" Vincent asked curiously.

"I noticed that you're walking a little bit funny. I hope you're not too sore." Chip said with concern.

"I feel like my underwear's jammed half-way up my butt, but besides that, I'm okay." Vincent said honestly.

Chip chuckled, then said, "Well, if you notice any soreness, just be sure to come to Ben or me and we'll get you something.

"I'm already taking stuff for pain. That'll probably take care of it." Vincent said without concern.

* * * * *

When Chip had told him that they were going to a butcher's shop, Vincent didn't understand the volume of meat that Chip was planning to purchase.

Although he couldn't be sure from the way it was packaged, all the individual pieces of meat being wrapped in paper and tied with twine, he had the feeling that Chip had most, if not all of an entire cow in the back of his truck.

When they got back to Southcrest, Vincent helped Chip carry in the first load of meat and found that Ben was waiting on them in the kitchen.

"I was thinking about inviting Jeremias to the cookout tomorrow. Would there be any problem with that?" Ben asked curiously.

Chip considered for a moment, then said, "Of course you can invite whoever you'd like. I just don't know how well a corporate lawyer will fit in with the other guests that have been invited."

"Actually, that's why I wanted to invite him. He's a single father and in the few weeks that he's been with us, I've gotten the feeling that he doesn't have a chance to do much outside of working and caring for his daughter." Ben said honestly.

"If you think he'll enjoy it, then invite him along." Chip said simply, then thought to ask, "How old is his daughter? I wouldn't want for her to feel left out."

"She's eight or nine, I think. And I seem to recall him mentioning that she has an interest in Starfleet. Hopefully, that will be enough to keep her entertained." Ben said happily.

"Will Captain Spock be at the barbeque?" Vincent asked curiously.

"No. He's on Vulcan right now. If he were on Earth, he would have been there in person to see you get your commission." Chip said frankly.

"That's right! With everything else going on, I forgot to congratulate you on your promotion!" Ben said cheerfully.

"Thanks." Vincent said timidly.

"There's a lot more meat in the truck. Let's get to hauling." Chip said as he led the way.

Vincent was grateful for the change in subject as he followed.

He was surprised when he felt Ben's hand on his shoulder.

"You did good. We're proud of you." Ben said gently as he walked with them to help carry in the packaged meat.

* * * * *

Once all the packages of meat were brought in and properly stored, Chip went to work in the kitchen, making a marinade.

Vincent was standing aside, watching, but not really paying attention.

"Chip said that you stopped for tacos on the way back from the spaceport." Ben said casually as he walked to Vincent's side.

"Yeah. I was surprised at how good the food was." Vincent confirmed.

"Even so, I'm betting that you're going to be hungry again soon. That's just how growing boys are." Ben said with a smile, then continued, "As soon as Chip's done getting the meat prepped for tomorrow, Hazel and I will put together a quick 'grab and go' style dinner so that you'll be able to eat as much or as little as you'd like, whenever you're hungry."

"Thanks. That sounds good." Vincent said appreciatively.

"I suppose until that's ready, you could go into the game room, if you like. I'm sure we must have something in there that would entertain you." Ben said frankly.

"Actually, what I'd really like to do is shower and change clothes. Riding the horse was fun, but now I stink." Vincent finished in a confidential whisper.

"If that will make you feel better, go right ahead. You know where your room is, right?" Ben asked to confirm.

Vincent nodded, and as he was about to turn to leave, a sudden impulse came over him and he instead pulled Ben into an unexpected hug.

"What's that for?" Ben chuckled with delight as he held Vincent gently.

"For being nice and stuff. I don't always remember to tell people when I appreciate them. I didn't want you thinking I was just being polite or something. So, thanks for caring and being a good guy and, you know, going out of your way to do things." Vincent said in a slightly bumbling meter.

"You're very welcome." Ben said warmly, then leaned in and whispered, "Go on, now. You smell like horse."

* * * * *

When Vincent stepped out of the shower, he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye and was momentarily spooked by his reflection in the mirror over the sink.

He smiled at the silliness of his overreaction, then took a moment to look at himself.

His face had only changed slightly in the past few months and had mostly retained the features of a child. However his body was longer and leaner than it used to be. He had always been a bit on the slender side, but now he noticed that his body looked to be more toned than it had been. The slight amount of 'baby fat' that he had once carried had melted away.

As his gaze drifted downward, he realized that the wisp of pubic hair that had been growing was starting to fill out. And that wasn't all that was filling out. He didn't know if he would ever attain Lehman's 'adult' proportions, but there was no doubt that, at least in that area, he had passed the point where he looked like a child.

It suddenly occurred to him that his body was reflecting what was going on in the rest of his life. In some ways he still was a child. In human society, strictly by virtue of his age, he was not only seen as a minor, but was also judged to be below the age of reason, unable to decide things for himself. Contrasting that, there was his status on Vulcan, where he had proved himself as an adult and thus was treated as one. Finally, there was Starfleet, where he sometimes felt that he was walking a tightrope between being a mentored child and a responsible member of the crew.

His developing body was as much a blend of contradictions as everything else in his life. And in all cases, he had no choice but to try and accept the changes that he was faced with as they presented themselves.

* * * * *

Once his shower was finished, Vincent made his way down to the game room and found it to be empty. He almost left to see if he could find out what everyone else was doing, but instead decided to take some time to just relax and enjoy a quiet moment.

When he signed on to one of the computers, he saw the icon for the Starfleet simulator and smiled at the idea. He had completed his coursework and testing for school, so he had no outstanding duties there. He had passed his officer's exam, so he didn't need to study for that anymore. He had no one depending on him for anything and nowhere that he needed to be.

As the simulator program went through it's startup, Vincent smiled at a notice that RJ and Loi were also signed into the sim.

Vincent hurried to put on his headphone mic and said, "Hey guys! How are you doing?"

"Hi Vincent. We were just checking out the sim and thinking about playing. Do you want to join us?" Loi asked hopefully.

"Yeah. I passed my officer's exam. I'm an ensign now." Vincent said happily.

"Yeah. I know. Uncle Joe called and told everyone already." Loi said quickly.

"Congratulations, Vincent. Or, I guess we should call you 'Ensign Winters' now." RJ said consideringly.

"Nope. Not unless you've joined Starfleet since the last time I talked to you." Vincent said warmly.

"Not yet. Let's see how I do on the simulator, first." RJ responded.

"Are you about to run a sim?" Justy asked as he walked into the room.

Vincent muted his mic and quietly said, "Yeah. Give me a second."

Then he said into his headset mic, "Guys, I've got a friend of mine named Justy here and he'd like to play. Do you mind?"

After a moment of consideration, Loi thoughtfully said, "I think the more people we have, the more fun it'll be."

Vincent muted his mic again and said, "The guys said it would be okay."

Justy sat down at the next computer as he said, "I'll probably have enough time to play, but I may need to drop out when Dean gets here."

"Okay." Vincent responded, then turned his mic back on and said, "Justy has some company coming over, so he might have to drop out later."

"I might have to drop out, too, if mom needs to use the computer for anything." Loi said honestly.

As soon as Vincent saw that Justy had joined the room, he said, "Guys, this is Justy."

"Hi, Justy. What position do you want to play?" RJ asked curiously.

"I like the helm." Justy said frankly.

"That works for me. I was wanting to try being captain." RJ said happily.

"Okay, Captain RJ. The helm is waiting for your orders." Justy said as he configured his console.

Vincent signed in as Deflector Control and went through his standard system checks, just like he would do if he were really on the job.

"Give me a minute to read through our mission briefing." RJ said distractedly.

"Have you guys started?" Keith asked as he walked into the room with Ethan at his side.

"No. The captain's just looking over our mission briefing." Justy said happily.

"Do you guys mind if some guys named Keith and Ethan join us?" Vincent asked cheerfully.

"I'll just watch." Ethan said quietly.

"No problem. The more the merrier." RJ responded.

"I've got communications." Keith said quickly as he signed on.

"That's original." Justy said with a grin at his older brother.

"What do you mean?" Loi asked curiously.

As Justy was about to answer, he noticed the warning look that he received.

"Oh, it's nothing. That's just what he always picks." Justy said grudgingly.

"Well, Captain RJ, it looks like your crew is all ready and waiting for your orders." Vincent said with a grin at Justy.

"It seems that there is some sort of dispute in the vicinity of Sirius B. We're being sent to check it out." RJ said thoughtfully.

"Sirius? That's practically around the corner." Justy said in surprise.

"Navigation. Plot a course to Sirius B. Helm, when you have a course, warp five." RJ said authoritatively.

"Aye, Sir." Justy said seriously, then muted his microphone and quietly said, "Stay sharp. I haven't seen this scenario before."

Once Justy had taken them to warp, he unmuted his microphone and announced, "ETA four minutes."

"Anything on long range scans?" RJ asked seriously.

"I see two large groups of ships. The computer can't identify them. They look like they're squaring off to start shooting at each other." Loi said quickly.

"Shields up! Yellow alert!" RJ snapped.

"Aye, Sir." Vincent said automatically.

"Bring us out of warp right beside them, so we can see both groups." RJ said firmly.

"Yes, Sir." Justy said professionally.

The room was silent as everyone saw the same thing on their screens. Two completely alien armadas were nose to nose, apparently ready to go in to battle.

"Communications, hail the lead ships. I want to talk to their captains." RJ said seriously.

"Yes, Sir." Keith said immediately, then cautiously said, "Both ships have responded, but the universal translator is having trouble with one of their languages. Would you like to speak to the first captain?"

"Yes. Put him on screen." RJ said seriously.

A moment later, a strangely furry humanoid with large soulful eyes filled the screen.

"I am Captain Fluffy of the Fifian armada. Do not interfere! Our sworn enemies have stolen one of our most ancient and beloved artifacts!" The captain said firmly.

It was all that Vincent could do not to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

"What have they stolen? Maybe it's something we can help with." RJ asked cautiously.

An image of what appeared to be a knotted piece of rope, resting on a velvet pillow, filled all their view screens.

"Captain, the translator has been able to decypher the second language if you'd like to speak to the other captain." Keith said efficiently.

"Yes. We need to hear both sides of the story." RJ said decisively.

"I am Captain Betty-Boo of the Meowurites and we are offended at being accused of such treachery. We've stolen nothing." The second captain purred.

Vincent was unable to maintain his composure and muted his microphone before breaking into laughter.

"Captain Fluffy, when was your ancient relic stolen?" RJ asked thoughtfully.

"When I went to get it, it wasn't there. They must have taken it!" Captain Fluffy barked.

"But when was the last time that you saw it?" RJ asked reasonably.

"I don't know. It just... it wasn't there when I wanted it..." Captain Fluffy pouted.

"We'll help you find it, Captain Fluffy." RJ promised, then asked, "But while we're looking, maybe we could find something else that you might enjoy."

Captain Fluffy looked up with immediate interest.

"Would you enjoy some shiny new Federation drinking chalices?" RJ asked enticingly.

"Yes! Yes! Shiny chalices sound nice!" Captain Fluffy said with excitement.

"Expect them to arrive any minute." RJ promised, then quietly said, "Communications, close channel."

"Aye, Captain." Keith said quickly.

"Get me Captain Betty-Boo." RJ said firmly.

"Yes, Sir." Keith said as he fought down a chuckle.

"May I assume that we have been cleared of any wrong-doing?" Captain Betty-Boo asked seductively.

"No, Captain. You haven't. Please, just give them back their artifact when you're done teasing them, will you?" RJ asked hopefully.

"How could you dare to suggest that we would stoop to such childish behavior!" Captain Betty-Boo hissed.

"Will you promise to give it back?" RJ persisted.

Captain Betty-Boo stared at Captain RJ for long minutes, revealing nothing in her expression.

Finally, the slightest smile crossed her lips and she purred, "We will give it back... in time."

"Thank you." RJ said in relief.

"A pleasure to meet you, Captain." Captain Betty-Boo purred before disconnecting the transmission.

"What about Captain Fluffy? He's still waiting." Keith asked with concern.

"Right. Have someone transport two toilets over to his ship." RJ said firmly.

After a moment for the laughing on all the microphones to subside, Keith calmly said, "Aye, Captain."

"I'm going to have to talk to Cory and find out who came up with that scenario. That was awesome." Justy said happily.

"It's sure not what I expected." Vincent said honestly.

"How did I do?" RJ asked cautiously.

"You did GREAT! I know how to handle all the Starfleet regulations and first contact protocols, but there's no way I would have known how to arbitrate peace between dogs and cats!" Vincent said appreciatively.

"As I understand the way the Clan version of the sim is set up, it evaluates you and plays to your strengths, so that it can test your limits." Keith said seriously.

"Um, what does it mean that it chose such a freaky program for me?" RJ asked cautiously.

"Actually, I think it may mean that you have some innate talent as a negotiator. I don't know what I would have done in your place, but I don't think it would have turned out as well." Keith said frankly.

"Same here." Vincent agreed.

* * * * *

Since their first mission had been relatively quick, everyone was happy to join in to another one.

But before they could start, Dean arrived and Justy announced that he wouldn't be playing the next round.

Loi and RJ both said that they had things they needed to do and signed off as well.

Vincent, Keith and Ethan were just sitting and talking when a voice from the doorway said, "Vincent?"

He turned at the sound of his name, then broke into a smile.

"How are you doing, Channing?" Vincent asked as he took off his headset.

"Great, now that I'm here. My grandmother's house was kind of a war zone and I was looking for an excuse to get out of there." Channing said honestly, then asked, "What are you doing here?"

"I'm just spending a few days at Uncle Chip's before I have to leave for my next mission." Vincent said honestly.

"Really? Do you know where you'll be posted?" Channing asked with interest.

"A Vulcan science ship. That's all I know about it." Vincent said honestly.

"A Vulcan ship?" Channing asked consideringly, then quietly said, "I don't know if I'd like that."

"I don't know either. But I think it'll be good to find out." Vincent said with an unconcerned smile.

"Well, if you feel the need to hear a friendly 'emotional' voice while you're out there, you can always call me." Channing said frankly.

"Don't forget about us." Keith interjected.

"Thanks, guys. I don't know how it's going to be. But it's good to know that I'll have someone that I can call if I start going stir crazy." Vincent said warmly.

"Are you going to eat or not?" A voice called from the doorway.

"Chance?" Vincent asked in surprise.

"Yeah. I just wanted to say 'hi' to everyone, first." Channing called back.

"How are you doing, Vincent? I didn't know you were going to be here." Chance said as he walked more into the room.

"Yeah. Same here." Vincent said honestly.

"Chance didn't have anything going on, so I invited him along." Channing explained.

"What were you saying about food?" Keith asked with interest.

"Yeah. When your dad answered the door, he said that he had dinner out on the counter for anyone who was hungry." Chance said frankly.

Although no one said anything more, a silent consensus was reached and everyone set off to raid the kitchen.

* * * * *

As Vincent lay in his bed, on the edge of sleep, he thought about just how lucky he had been. He didn't want to imagine what his life would have been like if the Clan hadn't looked at him and decided that there was someone worth caring about and helping.

The last thought that crossed his mind as his eyes fell closed was of T'Lani and how he was looking forward to sharing with her what had happened every moment of the time that they had been apart.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:
Well I am very pleased to have a new chapter of this story.

I must admit I have a soft spot in my heart for Vincent.

when I first saw him, I didn't really like him all that much, but he has certainly grown up as time has gone by.

Did I mention that way back in the day, Rory was my favourite. Now after meeting so many people, I have a much harder time trying to make a decision as to who I like best. Both Vincent and Rory are still up there near the top, but I really don't think I can come to a decision any time soon. I really enjoyed seeing Justy again.

I loved the dog and cat mission. That was cool.

Who is this Mr. Jeremias? I like the name, though.

It was nice to see a bit about the feelings of those people who are experiencing the strange effect of having two different sets of memories to deal with.

Well, as Always, I am ready for the next chapter, I know that is such a big surprise. Grin.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

A Note from Greybear:

When MM and I first tossed around ideas about some of my characters showing up, I admit I was a little surprised. But after what I just read, I have to say that I am very impressed. He was able to embody the essence of my characters and bring them to life. I look forward to reading the next chapter.